COMMENTARY: After early NCAA exit, UA hoops on win streak
Like 12 seeds beating five seeds routinely, every college basketball fan knows nothing is won in late April to June.
You don’t get a trophy for securing a big recruit or bringing on an impressive assistant coach.
However if they did, University of Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller would be in line to pick up some 2017 off-season hardware.
In late April, the Arizona Daily Star, the newspaper in Tucson, published a video on YouTube called “Sean Miller riding win streak since Sweet 16 loss.”
Star sports editor Ryan Finley said that win streak was “almost unprecedented.”
Since that video, former five-star recruit Chase Jeter announced he was transferring to UA from Duke, the Wildcats’ third leading scorer Rawle Alkins pulled his name out of the NBA draft, four-star Emmanuel Akot reclassified decided to join Arizona this year and five-star point guard Brandon Williams committed to the UA.
Plus when Ohio State fired Thad Matta this week, Miller’s name was bandied about as a possible successor. It’s always good to be in demand obviously, it has to help recruiting.
While Miller being named a potential target for a school is hardly news, new UA president Robert Robbins said a quote to the Arizona Republic that was all over sports websites on Wednesday.
“The Ohio State University is great university, but they are not going to get Coach Miller,” Robbins said. “They will have to come over me to get him, as the saying goes, over my dead body.”
What a quote.
At least Sporting News, ESPN, CBS, Sports Illustrated, Fox and USA Today have the Wildcats ranked No. 1. They probably are even tops in both the popular vote and electoral college.
This is after the Wildcats lost three players to the NBA Draft via early entry and senior combo guard Kadeem Allen.
Their 2017 recruiting class is ranked No. 3 by ESPN, Scout, Rivals and 247 Sports. In addition to those rookies, Allonzo Trier, who averaged 17.2 points a game in 2017 and Alkins passed on the NBA Draft. Alkins was a surprise as lead the NBA Combine in scoring.
Arizona suffered a heart breaking loss to Xavier, Miller’s last job, in the Sweet 16, but since then added associate head coach Lorenzo Romar and Shareef O’Neal, Shaq’s son.
While he was head coach at Washington, Romar won conference coach of the year three times.
Plus six UA alumni are in the NBA Finals this year. Former Wildcat Steve Kerr looks like a shoe in to win his second NBA title as a coach, softening the blow that is UA alum and LA Lakers head coach Luke Walton having suffer through basketball’s Kardashians by adding Lonzo Ball through the NBA Draft.
Things weren’t so cheery for the Wildcats in March.
The loss to Xavier was particularly painful because the Final Four in 2017 was in Arizona for the first time. UA looked to have an easy road to Glendale, Salt Lake City and San Jose and the No. 2 seed in the west with a less than intimidating No. 1 seed in their bracket in Gonzaga.
Sure the Bulldogs made it to the title game, but the Wildcats are 6-2 against Gonzaga and the Bulldogs barely beat the UA in December when Arizona was so depleted that sophomore walk on Paulo Cruz played regular minutes.
Arizona in the first Arizona Final Four just seemed like destiny.
Despite losing five-star recruit Terrance Ferguson to professional basketball in Australia and five-star recruit Ray Smith to retirement after multiple ACL injuries, plus injuries to senior Talbott Denny and back up point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and missing Trier much of the season to suspension, the Wildcats looked like they were peaking in March.
Arizona went 32-5, won a share of the Pac-12 regular season title and the conference tournament championship.
After spending much of the season with a depleted roster, Wildcat fans wondered what the team would look like fully armed and operational. Now it looks like they will be and that Miller will finally get to that Final Four.
Romar wore a “Wildcat basketball never stops” shirt to his introductory press conference in Tucson. While it’s a Nike slogan, it’s actually true.